Mining technology – AI in Mining.

We hear of restaurants in India engaging robots as waiters. Recently a cardio-surgeon from Ahmedabad performed the world’s first in-human tele-robotic coronary intervention on a patient from a remote location. Kerala’s  police force inducted a Robot into their workforce in earlier this year. Whether we like to admit it or not, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics are slowly taking over our lives. For now let’s leave aside the discussion on merits and de-merits of the take over and just acknowledge that it is happening. We and the world we are in are on a super-fast ride forward propelled by the engine of AI enabled technology. We cannot opt out. And Mining is one sector in India that can undoubtedly benefit from the AI advantage. Improving efficiency even by small small degrees can have a multiplier effect on overall cost and output of the mining industry and consequently on all other industry for which minerals and metals are raw materials. So it is very important that we embrace AI and see if it can take us to where we want to be – A sustainable, cost -efficient and safer industry.

How has AI changed the mining landscape in other countries? What are the specific areas in the mining process where AI can give us a push?

Let’s take a look and learn.

Data Analytics and AI in mineral exploration

AI can help right from step one of the mining process- exploring and finding mineral resources. Machine learning can be used to make sense of the vast geological information that is already available to find the best drilling locations. Goldcorp corporation of Canada and IBM Watson have already set out on a joint initiative to make this a reality.

AI in drilling –  Autonomic Vehicles

Thanks to Uber and Tesla all of us now have heard of autonomous vehicles but Mining major Rio Tinto has been using autonomous haul trucks since 2008. The advantages of these autonomous vehicles are lower fuel consumption and safer operations. The company claims that this has reduced their fuel use by 13 % and productivity by 10 % They are also using robotics in loaders and drilling systems.

AI in Mine Safety

The tragedy of the 18 Meghalaya minors that shook the nation in the beginning of this year is still fresh in our memories. Such instances taint the already sullied image that Mining has in the minds of the people. To say that the Indian Mining Inc has to perforce focus on improving mine safety is an understatement. Internet of Things and sensors can help in identifying hitches in mining equipment before breakdowns can occur. Real time data analytics whereby information from sensors recording temperature, speed and vibrations of machines can predict failures well in advance making mining operations much more safer.

Digital Twinning

NASA’s innovation of creating exact virtual models of space conditions, fed by real time data called Digital twinning is now being widely used in different areas. Rio Tinto is attempting to use this technology to create an intelligent mine with a virtual twin where scenarios can be tested and operations can be optimised

Adopting these and other innovations in India involves surmounting a few challenges, like the huge capital investment and the need to train and skill mine workers to handle AI tasks. While it will definitely provide new jobs for our IT millennials, existing miners and labourers may feel threatened by the change. So mining companies must invest sufficient time and resources in making a smooth transition that is easy on all stakeholders.

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